When we gardeners become too obsessed with weeding, we forget that plants are plants, without any motivation for making our lives difficult. It’s humans who deem one plant a weed and another a delicacy. Sometimes we appear to get that very wrong. Lambsquarter (sometimes seen as lamb’s quarter or lambs quarter) is definitely one of those cases.
Lambsquarter (Chenopodium album) is a very common weed that is actually so tasty and nutrient-rich that shrewd gardeners are going out of their way to cultivate it. It’s actually a member of the amaranth family that grows well in all soil conditions but is particularly adept at revitalizing the nutrients of poor soils. Found throughout the United States and on all continents, its leaves, shoots, flowers, and seeds are edible.
But, the really great thing about lambsquarter is that, unlike many wild edibles, it tastes great: a creamy texture with a somewhat salty flavor slightly smacking of spinach.
Lambsquarter has distinctive white leaves near the top of its center, and they are an indication of just how mineral-rich the plant is. The white dust covering the leaves is actually mineral salt that lambsquarter has mined from the soil. The flavor of salt is strong enough that the plant can be dried and used as seasoning, substituting for table salt.
A cup of lambsquarter greens, easily gathered from a single mature plant, delivers a huge dose of Vitamins A and C, as well as several B vitamins. It’s also a good source of calcium and manganese and provides notable amounts of potassium, iron, and copper. Like many other greens, it’s a good secondary source of protein and fiber to boot.
As with the majority of plants, lambsquarter has several medicinal qualities that can be used as home remedies. The leaves can be chewed into a poultice to soothe bites and small abrasions, as well as sunburns. The same poultice can provide some relief when applied topically to arthritic pains and joint inflammation. Tea made from the leaves can ease stomach problems, and eaten raw, they can help with anemic blood issues.
The tender greens from young leaves are often used in green juices to help with cleansing the body of toxins. With mature leaves, it’s important to taste them prior to harvesting a lot, as they may become too astringent in flavor, and when drinking green juices, our body doesn’t have time to warn us of too much of a good thing.
Even the roots can be useful. They have saponin, a soapy element found in plants, which can be used as a cleaning agent. The same root can also be boiled into a tea for a cleansing laxative that’ll remove problematic excesses from the body.
While lambsquarter can grow in many places, it tends to pop up in disturbed soils, such as those in gardens and beside roads or paths. The plant is sometimes called goosefoot because it has leaves that resemble a goose’s foot. They get up to about four inches long. As said before, they also have a unique white coating from mineral salts, particularly on the underside of the leaves. The plant, which is mostly foliage, grows to about four feet tall.
Its flowers, forming in the summer, are small and green and appear in tight clusters. They, too, are edible. Each lambsquarter specimen can also produce roughly 75,000 seeds, which are available in the fall. They can be sprouted for a highly nutritional component to meals.
It’s important to positively identify wild plants before eating or even tasting them. While this one is easy to identify, it’s absolutely necessary to take caution to be 100 percent sure.
Lambsquarter, also referred to as wild spinach, is delicious both raw and cooked. The young leaves especially can be added to salads as a mixed green. It works well with other foraged greens like garlic mustard and dandelion. It is, however, important to remember that it has oxalic acid, like spinach, so it should be limited as a raw component. In terms of cooking, it can be used in place of spinach in recipes.
Less commonly, lambsquarter seeds are sprouted, as would be the case with any other sprouted seed, or they can be grown as microgreens. The leaves can also be dehydrated and ground into powder to use as a seasoning and nutritional additive to soups and stews in the winter when vitamins and minerals are in shorter supply.
This is an easy identified, highly nutritional weed that is available in abundance for free to many of us. It bursts up of its own volition in the garden, and gardeners should definitely allow some of it to remain as a crop. Whatever is pulled as a weed will provide a rich boost to the compost heap. The main point is to value lambsquarter in the garden. It’s an amazing plant.